blended

wisely balanced for the best flavor

hernaiz

the pendulum only finds balance on its equilibrium position -that is, when resting.

when displaced from that position, it swings from side to side subject to a restoring force due to gravity that will accelerate it back toward the equilibrium position.

oftentimes, humans seem to behave like pendulums, unable to find a balanced position, moving from extreme to extreme. per se, that is not necessarily a bad thing -but it can become a problem if an individual (read also an institution, organization, business or administration) subjects others to those swinging movements, disconcerting them in the process.

i dislike those pendulum-like changes because, in my opinion, they are due to reasons such as:

  • a lack of a long-term strategic vision, where short-term is king

  • the latest fashion, or -even worse- the latest fad, that pushes us in a direction not in agreement with our best interests (often those of a vendor)

  • a tendency to react rather than act, to let circumstances determine our next move

is there an antidote against such movements? i think so. i know so, because i have seen it with my own two eyes. the antidote comprises a combination of:

  • a serious, objective, assessment of the surrounding reality, considering strengths and weaknesses, challenges and opportunities

  • a long-term strategic vision of where we (read our institution, organization, business or administration) wants to be in 5-10 years

  • a detailed plan to fulfil that vision (remember: plan, plan and then plan some more; when you think you have planned for all possible contingencies, write an alternative plan)

  • a strong leader, capable of mobilizing all the resources (people, funding, materials) needed to accomplish that vision

but, as i said before, unfortunately short-term is king. at least in my neck of the woods. and then life happens -as in the coronavirus (covid-19) happens. and then we have to improvise, because we don’t have a long-term vision, because we don’t have detailed plans in place (much less alternative plans), because we don’t have strong leadership.

let’s take education as an example -an industry that i know quite well (after 28 years in different positions, from schools to administrations, both in spain and the usa): for many years now the worlds of online education and in-person education have been, well, two completely separate worlds, hardly ever mixing. like water and oil.

i know, there are exceptions. there always are exceptions. we need them to prove the rules. but for the most part (again, at least in my neck of the woods) those two are separate worlds. we were living in the world of in-person education. i was living in that world, with my students coming to class twice a week for a 135-minute session. and then that world was suddenly turned upside down, and we were told to transition to online education. just like that. oh, yes, beginning tomorrow.

but our schools (from elementary to high, from vocational to adult) were unprepared for such a transition. totally unprepared. sorely unprepared. but if you dare say that out loud, true as that may be, someone always responds -as if that were an excuse- that this pandemic was totally unexpected. really? nobody expected this? maybe. except for bill gates: in march 2015 he gave a now proverbial ted talk titled the next outbreak? we’re not ready where he predicted this with scary accuracy, and where he even proposed the necessary steps to be ready to cope with it, from scenario planning to vaccine research to health worker training. but we didn’t listen. our leaders didn’t listen. for five years. ouch.

in the field of education, our leaders should have planned for a scenario like this and taken the steps to guarantee that we would be able to transition to online learning quickly and efficiently. imho, the four pillars to sustain such a plan are (applicable to both teachers and students):

  • hardware: guarantee access to the laptops and/or tablets needed to follow virtual classes, do activities, submit work for assessment and evaluate students as/when needed

  • software: develop/choose a platform where the online learning will take place, avoiding ‘fashionable’ solutions (zoom anyone?) and vendor lock-in, keeping in mind that if you don’t pay for the product it is because you are the product

  • connectivity: guarantee the broadband access to the internet needed to follow virtual classes (including videoconferencing), do activities, submit work for assessment and evaluate students as/when needed

  • training: make sure that everyone has the knowledge and skills needed to participate actively and successfully in online education. in the case of teachers, not only technical, but especially methodological training is required -since teaching online has very little in common with in-person classes (and most of our teachers only have experience in the latter)

and yet here we are. in a scenario where our students (for the most part, we have lost some in the transition) are being taken care of thanks to the goodwill of all the parties involved: teachers, families and the students themselves -who are showing tremendous adaptability and resilience. it is wonderful that technology has enabled millions of students to keep learning even when direct contact is impossible. But some experts are already stating that

once this crisis ends, we will be better off if technology frees up precious class time so that educators and students can engage deeply with each other and build personal connections that will last a lifetime.

my long-term strategic vision for the world of education would be one where online and in-person classes not only coexist, but complement each other, naturally, throughout the school year and at all levels (from elementary to high, from vocational to adult). in other words, a world where blended learning is king.

in this world the students:

  • have convenience and flexibility: the ability to control their learning pace and learn remotely

  • can get a more comprehensive understanding of the course content

  • can interact with instructors and fellow learners, in a context where social learning is supported

and the teachers/schools:

  • can use varying elearning methods, such as webinars, gamification, etc., which result in better learner engagement

  • have better methods to track exactly who has, or hasn’t, completed training

  • can make better use of the facilities available (classrooms)

i have been advocating for blended learning since at least 2004. unsuccessfully, of course. and yet i still believe that it is not only a viable alternative, but the best one. especially in this ‘unexpected’ context. blended. wisely balanced for the best flavor.


credits: photo by thought catalog on unsplash